With creaking footsteps, fogging breath and pounding heart, I reach my destination. Mission accomplished! Time to celebrate! I look at my watch: 14.4 kilometres in 1 hour and 13 minutes. Not particularly fast, but it’s ten degrees below freezing, pitch black and there’s snow on the icy ground, so that’s okay. That wasn’t the mission and that’s not what I’m celebrating either.
Adding up all the runs this week, I get to 50 kilometres in total, which isn’t spectacular either, but this is December in Sweden, so I regard running at least 10 kilometres every other day as an achievement in itself. It takes a certain amount of stubbornness to keep running after you step in a pool of freezing water, and to not just give up when a strong headwind throws ice crystals sharp as needles straight into your face. But you get used to it. The icy water still in your shoes gets warmed up after just a few minutes, and your face grows numb quickly too. That still wasn’t the mission, though.
When I add up this week’s distance to that of the previous week’s, and then keep adding up all the weeks back to January 1st, 2022, I have run a total distance of 2500 kilometres. That’s 50 kilometres per week on average for 50 weeks straight. That was the mission, and worth celebrating!
I’ll do so by looking back at these fifty weeks and share some memorable moments and interesting insights, along with occasional photos. Naturally, some improvements in running speed and distance is to be expected, but I also want to share some truly unexpected things that happened. When you set a goal and stick to it (almost) no matter what, you will discover things you didn’t set out to explore.
If you’re not interested in the running itself or don’t like when other people talk about their achievements, you should skip the next section and go directly to the reflection part!
Running 2500 kilometres in 50 weeks: 老驥伏櫪，志在两千五百里
Before I share some thoughts that others actually might find interesting, I’ll share some notable runs that I’m more proud of than the others. Difficulty here is very subjective, and some things that appear hard actually weren’t.
The longest run
My activity band stopped the run prematurely (sweat and long-sleeved shirts can sometimes mess up the touch screen), so this is actually one run in three pictures. The total distance is 43.86 kilometres, covered in roughly 4 hours and 11 minutes.
For those who don’t run a lot, this seems like a long distance. And it is, of course, a bit longer than a marathon, but it didn’t feel very hard to do. If you’re used to running 15-20 kilometres every other day regardless of weather conditions, current physical shape and so on, and occasionally running 20-25 kilometres, doubling the distance at a slower pace in optimal conditions is not outrageous. You also get to finish half a (short) audiobook during a run like this.
The fastest long-distance run
21 kilometres in 1:32:32. To be honest, I’m not sure how I was able to do this, but I started at a decent pace and then just didn’t get tired, even though I kept the same pace throughout the whole run. I didn’t start feeling exhausted until the very end and then I knew I had a lovely time in sight, so I just kept pushing the last few kilometres. This run was not optimised in terms of elevation gain/loss either, so could have been even faster on flatter ground.
The fastest short-distance run
This is the fastest run. And also by far the most arduous one. And yes, it’s pretty nice that I genuinely think of 10 kilometres as “short-distance” these days. It’s the minimum, what I do when I really, really don’t feel like running at all.
My goal for next year will be to run 10 kilometres in under 40 minutes, which should be possible considering how close this was and how little I have actually prepared for this. I normally run longer distances at a slower pace (see above), but I decided to give 10 kilometres in 40 minutes at least a few tries before snow and cold weather would make this impossible.
I did a few runs where I maxed every other kilometre and relaxed in between, so something like one kilometre in 3:50, then the next in 5:20, then repeat for an hour or so. I also did a handful of attempts to see how long I could keep a 4:400 per kilometre pace, which turned out to be 5-6 kilometres. The run shown above is actually the only one I managed to do where I ran the whole distance as fast as I could.
As I said, this was by far the most demanding run of the year. Running as fast as you can for 40 minutes is so much less pleasant than running for five hours at a leisurely pace. This also involves a different level of mental strength, because it’s so easy to quit halfway when you feel like there’s no way you can keep this up for the whole distance. To make this happen, I told a friend in advance that I would definitely run the whole distance this time, which increased my motivation to do so. I also knew that this might be the last try because of snow on the weather forecast, so no backing out this time. I think I’ll be able to get under 40 minutes this spring, I just need to go for it when having a really good day. Some additional interval training would certainly help, too, but that takes most of the fun out of running.
313 kilometres in May
All the above have been individual runs, but I also set a subgoal to run 300 km in one month. This was right after getting sick and not being able to run for about a week, so I both needed catching up and felt it would be nice to try. I played around a bit with running often but shorter distances (10-12 kilometres) and taking full rest days and running longer distances (25+ kilometres). Running often is definitely easier than running longer, but I ended up doing a mix. In total, I ran 313 kilometres in May.
Interesting insights and memorable moments
Enough running stats, let’s be a bit more reflective. I’ve never been very serious about running, but when sticking to a goal this closely, interesting things happen. Below, I will talk about running as a way to explore new and old places, using running to alleviate back pain, the value of nature and wildlife, and the benefits of no-apologies-accepted goals.
Running as a way to explore new and old places
Because of the pandemic, I ran a lot in 2020 and 2021, so I have already explored most interesting places within a 10-kilometre radius from where we live. That might have merited a post in itself, because there’s a surprising amount of things to see within running distance! This obviously varies depending on where you live, but I’m sure there are gems to be found where you live too, that don’t require cars or trains to explore.
What’s interesting about this year is that since I committed to running every other day (that was actually my original goal; the 2500 kilometre goal was tacked on to that later), I had to run in lots of situations where I would normally not run. For example, when on vacation, running before a long hike. Or running on Storholmen (see screenshot)
One thing that keeps surprising me is how far 10 kilometres takes you and how much you get to see new places. This is a great way to explore many places close to where you live when on trips, scouting ahead for the rest of the group in case you find anything interesting. Here are some random photos from various runs done while travelling:
And some more within running distance from home:
Using running to alleviate back pain
Thanks to my running project, I have stumbled on a remedy for lower back pain, which I’ve suffered from periodically since I was twenty or so. I have tried to figure out how to prevent or mitigate this problem, never with consistently good results. I can usually feel when the problem is about to get worse, usually because I’ve slept, sat or stood in a weird position, or sometimes for no very good reason at all.
My previous remedy was to get on an exercise bike (or a real bike, but that’s a bit more risky), which works pretty well. It activates the muscles involved without putting them under too much load and also gets the blood flowing. If in severe pain, doing the same with painkillers also works pretty well.
My new method involves running at least 10 kilometres, which sounds crazy, but hear me out! It started one day when I could barely walk 150 metres to the grocery store because my back hurt so much. Since I was committed to running every other day and I’m really stubborn, I decided to go running despite the pain. I expected this to fail miserably, considering that I struggled to walk 300 metres.
But I was able to run more than 300 metres. Yes, it hurt, but less than walking did. The first kilometre or so, I could feel various other surrounding muscles getting more and more tired, probably because they tensed up to relieve the lower back muscles. After two kilometres, my butt and thigh on the side that hurt the most became really tired, but I could feel the tension in the lower back gradually diminishing. After running ten kilometres at a very slow pace, my back felt tense and very tired, but hardly hurt at all. After taking a hot shower and sleeping, I was completely recovered the next day.
To me, that’s amazing! Normally, it takes almost a week to recover completely from the onset of symptoms to being fully back (pun intended), and this time it took only one day. I have since repeated this once, and also recommended it to my brother, who says it worked quite well for him too, but only with the full distance (he tried 5 kilometres first, which wasn’t great).
If I were to speculate why this works, I think it’s because the main problem with my type of lower back pain is not the actual injury or hurt area, but rather how the body reacts to it. I start tilting to one side, which creates stress and tension, which while making it stop hurting for the moment actually sets the body up for more trouble later. After a while, the body learns to adopt this lopsided posture even when it doesn’t actually need to, and it prolongs healing significantly. Painkillers work because they allow the muscles to relax and adopt a normal posture, but there’s still the psychological aspect that painkillers can’t do anything about.
Running works because the movements aren’t the same as when walking, so even if it’s impossible to walk normally with a straight spine, running normally actually does work. In addition, it also has the added benefits I’ve found with biking in that it exercises the right muscles and gets blood flowing to where it’s needed. That’s my amateur hypothesis, at least, but I’d be interested in hearing what more knowledgeable people think!
Finally, while this has worked flawlessly for me twice now, there’s of course no guarantee that it will work for other people with the same or similar problems, or even for me in the future. I’m not attempting to give medical advice here! However, if you’re like me in at least some regard and suffer from occasional lower back pains for no very good reason, it might at least be worth trying what I describe here, even if it sounds crazy. At your own risk, of course!
Some people have asked me if I have had any injuries because I’m running so much, but no, not really. My right knee hurt a bit for a few weeks in August, but simply running slower fixed the problem.
Nature and wildlife
I almost exclusively run alone. Without any human company, that is, because there are of course plenty of animals to hang out with. We have a nature reserve (Nackareservatet) nearby and regularly encounter deer and various kinds of birds (swans and herons being my favourites), along with the occasional beaver and fox. If I run far enough, there are also horses, but they obviously aren’t wild.
The landscape is also fantastic, even though it’s hard to do it justice when I use a mid-range smartphone from 2018 and generally don’t stop to take photos. However, the environment still makes a big difference, especially on longer runs!
The benefits of no-apologies-accepted goals
One of the best things with being committed to a project and being on a long streak is that no effort is wasted at all on convincing yourself to put on the running shoes and go out. During the summer, I ran first thing in the morning, getting the run out of the way with almost no mental energy wasted. In winter, it’s trickier because it’s dark both before and after normal working hours, but I tried running around noon as often as possible.
The achievement is not so much to brave bad weather and go out even when it’s zero degrees and raining, but more committing to the project and building a long enough streak, which simply removes skipping a day as an option. This commitment to a project can be very powerful, and have accomplished many things in life in this way. It’s hard to nail down, though, because simply promising myself isn’t enough, I need some momentum (a streak) before I’m truly committed.
Moving (running?) on
At the end of a project, it’s natural to ask what comes next. In this case, I’m going to tune things down a notch. I do want to run 10 kilometres in 40 minutes, but I have a feeling I’ll be able to do that soon after nice weather returns in the spring. Beyond that, I intend to keep running every other day, but without any commitment beyond that.
I do want to get back to gymnastics, though, which I’ve neglected since the pandemic started. I had to double check, but this is nearly three years ago! During that time, I still did my epic handstand project in 2020, but I doubt I’d be able to do more than a minute and a half now. So, back to gymnastics in 2023! The place where we practice is 10 kilometres from here. Hm…